Sermon – July 13, 2014

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

July 13, 2014

“A Matter of the Heart”

I Samuel 16:1-13

A thousand years before the birth of Jesus the Messiah, there was another messiah. His name was David and he was the king of Israel. The word “messiah” in Hebrew means the “anointed one”. Instead of being crowned, a king in Israel would have a ram’s horn filled with olive oil poured over his head. Translated into Greek, messiah became christos, or Christ. Messiah came to have a special meaning as Israel looked for a deliverer, the savior – who would be Jesus the Christ. Israel’s hope for the messiah, which is fulfilled in Jesus, begins with David. And so as we seek to know Jesus Christ we are going to begin with David. In these following Sundays, I will be preaching a series of sermons centered on the life of David.

David’s story takes place around the year 1000 BC. That means David lived over 3,000 years ago. So why read about David? For one thing the Bible says a lot about him. David’s story is the fullest biography recorded in the Bible. With the exception of Jesus, there is more written about David than any other character in the Bible. There are sixty-two chapters devoted to the life of David in the Old Testament.

Beyond that, I can give you three reasons why David’s story is important to us. First of all, David was a nation builder. David reigned as king for forty years and this was the beginning of Israel’s identity as a nation. This was Israel’s only real moment of glory in history. And forever after Israel looked for another king, another messiah, who would be like David. Today, the Star of David is the symbol of the nation of Israel.

The second reason is the promise God made to David. God said to David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” The messiah Israel hoped for would be the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is referred to by the messianic title – the Son of David. The real value of David is that he points us to Jesus.

The third reason to study David is simply that his story as a man is important for us to hear. When I sat down and read David’s story all the way through, I didn’t come away with any great admiration for the man. It is a remarkably honest portrayal. All of his strengths and his weaknesses are on display. The real value of David is not in his moral example. He has little wisdom to impart to us. He was an inept parent and an unfaithful husband. It is not the example of his leadership. After you read David’s story you will never put too much confidence in human leaders. Sometimes David looks like a poet and sometimes he looks like a barbaric tribal chieftain.
However, having said all that, I can still understand why David is described as “a man after God’s own heart.” David lived his life consciously in the presence of God. In every event of his life he is engaged with God; contending with God, pleading with God, giving praise to God. However, the main character in David’s story is always God. God is at the center of the plot: always working out his divine will in David’s life; always working his salvation and his holiness into David’s life. The importance of David’s life is in his experience of God.

Reading David’s story forces us to consider our own story. We are forced to recognize that God is not at the periphery of our lives, but at the very center. In his commentary on Psalm 28, John Calvin wrote: “Let us therefore remember that David is like a mirror, in which God sets before us the continual course of his grace.” When we have absorbed David’s story, we will discover ourselves continually bumping into God. We will find ourselves praying while doing the laundry, singing while backed up in traffic. The good thing about David is that he keeps pointing us to Jesus Christ.

David’s story begins in I Samuel 16 where he is anointed by the prophet Samuel. However David never speaks in this narrative and we don’t even learn his name until the last verse of the story. At this time Saul was the king of Israel; he was the first king of Israel. Saul is described in I Samuel 9 when he first appears on the scene: “There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel son of Zeror son of Becorath son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.”

Doesn’t that sound like a great description for a king? He’s from a wealthy family and he’s handsomer and taller than anyone else. Saul ruled over Israel for many years but ultimately he disappointed God. In the end, Saul was not a good king. He disobeyed God’s guidance and he boasted in his own accomplishments. He made sacrifices to God, but his heart was not in it. And so God told Samuel that he had chosen another to be king.

Samuel is directed to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem where he would anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. Samuel understands how hazardous is the mission on which he has been sent. It is a very dangerous thing to anoint a new king when there is already a king on the throne. Remember how when King Herod heard the news of the birth of a new king in Bethlehem, he slaughtered all the male babies in Bethlehem to try and stop it. So we can understand the fear of the people of Bethlehem when Samuel arrives. Samuel was a king-maker and a king-breaker. If a high court official visits a small village it can only mean trouble. Samuel was not in the habit of making drop-in visits and engaging in small talk. To ease their fears Samuel invites the city elders along with Jesse and his sons to a religious festival.

When the sons of Jesse pass in review before Samuel he looks them over. Eliab, the oldest, must have had king written all over him. Samuel is ready to break out the oil right there and he thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” The next verse is the key verse in this whole passage and it sets the tone for how we interpret the whole story of David. God says: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

All of Jesse’s sons parade in front of Samuel, but none of them is the right one. Samuel was no doubt bewildered. He must have wondered – This is Bethlehem isn’t it? You are Jesse aren’t you? Somehow this just wasn’t coming together. And Samuel said, “Are all your sons here?” Jesse replied, “Well, I’ve got one more, but he’s just a kid. We left him to watch the sheep.” And then comes a dramatic pause. Samuel says, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down till he comes here.” They would not go on with the feast until the last son arrives. And so they all wait. The city elders dutifully standing there. Jesse and his sons looking at each other in puzzlement. They had no idea what was happening. The storyteller makes us all wait for the unnamed eighth son to arrive.

Finally David comes, the one that all of Israel has been waiting for. The Lord said to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” And therefore before them all, but without a word of explanation, Samuel pours the horn of oil over David’s head. And it says, “And the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

There are many stories about David that circulated in Israel. David was a beloved king. He evoked admiration in women and fierce loyalty in men. People loved to tell of his exploits. You can just imagine how much people loved to tell this story. They would have appreciated the irony in it. David was the eighth son. He was at the bottom of the list. He was off the charts. This is a Cinderella story. Instead of stepsisters, David’s older brothers do not consider him important enough to appear before Samuel. David is completely ordinary. And so all those who reside on the outside of power and social status are attracted to David.

You would expect the powerful and the beautiful to be chosen, but God clearly has a different agenda. Instead, God looks on the heart. God wasn’t looking for someone with power or status or looks. In order to accomplish his will God did not need someone with proven ability or potential promise. What God looked for was the right heart.

The reason why David’s story can be so inspiring for us is because we’re just ordinary people too. It’s been said that the cardinal rule of politics is that what’s important is not what you are, but what you appear to be. That may work in politics but not in real life. The real quality of a person resides in the heart. What God desires is a heart which is open to him. What set David apart from his brothers and from other people was that his heart had been yielded to God.

As we look at David’s life we will see great successes and tremendous failures. But through it all David’s heart continues to seek after God. In Psalm 57, David writes: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.” As we come to the communion table let us examine our own hearts. We know that we are unworthy, but through the grace of Jesus Christ we have been made right with God. God has given us a new heart. As we celebrate the sacrament of God’s love, let us offer our hearts anew to God that he might anoint us with the power of his Holy Spirit.

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